Desire never stops. There is always something else or new we want. Something better. Something new to obtain; something new to attain; some new way to be. It’s the mainspring that drives our behavior in the world.
When we sit down to meditate the mind is flooded with desire: We want the room we’re in to be warmer or cooler. We want the environment to be quieter. We want our posture to be better. We want our sitting position to be more comfortable. We want our minds to be more alert, more concentrated, more still. We can watch the parade of these desires with some degree of detachment and bemusement. It’s the same old “Wanting Game” again and again.
Buddhist legend tells us that Mara the Tempter appeared to the Buddha in various disguises following his Enlightenment. Each time Mara would appear, the Buddha would see through his disguise saying “I see you, Mara!” With that, Mara would disappear, sad and disappointed. The Buddha didn’t have to struggle with Mara. He just needed to see Mara for who he was.
Similarly, when we see desire clearly it loses it’s power to enchant.
When I was in elementary school I used to go to the movies every Saturday afternoon. I could see a double feature, five color cartoons, and a newsreel all for twenty-six cents. I especially liked science fiction and monster movies. One Saturday afternoon the local theater was showing the movie Tarantula!
I had seen the coming attractions the previous Saturday, and couldn’t wait to see it. This had to be the scariest, best movie of all time! Unfortunately for me, my mother had other ideas. She was taking me to the dentist for my annual check-up that afternoon. I was beside myself! I begged and I pleaded! Not while Tarantula! was in town! Couldn’t we call up the dentist and cancel? Couldn’t we see the dentist next week? My mother was unrelenting, and I can still remember the taste of my disappointment today, fifty-five years later. Seeing that movie was the most important thing I could possibly imagine. When I asked the other kids about it on Sunday, they all agreed it was the best movie ever. And I had missed it! Sheer misery!
I got a chance to finally see Tarantula! recently. Here’s what James O’Ehley, the webmaster at Scifimoviepage says about it:
“As far as 1950s giant insect movies go, this… isn’t all that bad. Acting isn’t too rotten… You can certainly do a lot worse…. The older movies such as Tarantula become, the less interesting they become as movies in themselves. It certainly ticks off all the conventions of this particular subgenre: small town in the Arizona desert setting (check), mad scientist (check), army fighting giant insect creature (check), and so on… Tarantula is simply slow-moving and dull by modern standards. There is a lot of leisurely chatter going on and the finale is anticlimactic to say the least.”
The reviewer is being generous to a fault. I couldn’t watch more than 15 minutes of the movie.
Isn’t that the way with so much of desire? How many possessions we couldn’t wait to obtain have been long since sold-off at tag sales or on e-bay or are accumulating dust in some attic or basement? How many events we wanted to attend were better in anticipation than in actuality? How many record albums, CDs or MP3s, the one’s we just had to have, now lie unlistened to? How many things did we wish for that actually turned out to be toxic for us in some way? Like the sugar, fat, and salt that makes junk food so appealing? Can we see desire for what it is?
“I see you, Mara!”
This is not to say that all desiring is wrong. We can desire to educate ourselves, parent our children better, be kinder to others. All good things. Right now I want to learn how to play Chopin on the piano, and I’m looking forward to a trip touring the National Parks. I’m also looking forward to another tomato ripening in our garden; they’ve been spectacular this year. Nothing wrong with that.
What is important is that we look at our desires with discriminating wisdom. Is what we desire really good for us and others around us? Is it really worth the price we’re going to have to pay to get it? Not only the monetary price, but other costs as well: our time, effort and emotional involvement, and the effect it has on loved ones. Also, the other things we couldn’t afford because of the resources expended on fulfilling that one particular desire. Is our desire based on a true evaluation of our situation, or is it a senseless craving, an addiction, a whim?
One way to assist in the process of discerning the nature of the desire is to wait a bit. If we want something now, what if we wait a few minutes, or hours, or days, and see if we still want it? That is why when we sit down to meditate and the room is too hot or too cold or too noisy, we don’t do anything about our desire to make things better. We just sit there. It’s boot camp for life.